Berklee’s Café Campus

The famed Berklee School of Music in Boston recently began booking concerts in the Café 939 club – a venue it owns, operates and uses as a real-world classroom for students interested in the music business.

The 200-capacity Café 939, named for its location at 939 Boylston Ave., is an all-ages, non-alcoholic concert venue and coffeehouse. It opened in March (the coffee shop opened in December) and has already brought in touring acts like The Click Five, Fiery Furnaces and Ben Taylor.

The club is a dream come true for Roger Brown, a rock drummer who gigs regularly. Brown had been looking for such a venue since he took over the position of Berklee president about four years ago.

Last year, a two-story building next to the campus became vacant and Berklee immediately leased it, turning the bottom floor into Café 939 and dedicating the top floor to student activities, counseling and advising.

"They did not want an alcohol-based venue, given everything that comes with it," club manager Jackie Indrisano told Pollstar. "Also, our student population is under 21 and a lot of Boston is under 21 because we’re saturated with colleges."

Indrisano booked local club The Rat until it closed in 1997, and ran After Hours, a club at Northeastern University. She was working in Berklee’s student activities office when she applied as club manager.

"They gave me a list of students interested in working at the venue. Some were interested in box office, some in promoting and marketing, some wanted to be talent buyers," she said. "Lauren Caso [a Berklee alum who ran lights for Don Law’s concerts] is mentor, coach and teacher for the tech crew."

There are 15 interns, including two in the box office and two talent buyers, working various nights. Indrisano communicates with agents but the students handle the bulk of the work and have interacted with agencies as powerful as CAA, William Morris Agency and Paradigm.

"At this point, if a Jonathan Adelman or Larry Webman calls, they know how to talk it out," Indrisano said. "I come in because I hold the budget. That’s my responsibility."

Ryan Vangel of Live Nation New England played a major role in alerting agents to the room, Indrisano said.

Although Berklee students have to be musicians to get accepted into the college, many expect to work in the music business, in a non-performing capacity, upon graduation.

Getting an internship at a Boston venue isn’t easy, and Café 939 gives the students much-needed experience for their résumés. They don’t serve coffee during the gigs – a task handled by student catering – and focus strictly on the business.

"You’d think box office would be the least desirable of the jobs because it doesn’t sound very glamorous," Indrisano said. "But they love these jobs and think about being those people when they graduate."

There’s also a concert series of bands that include business CEOs in the lineups, giving students a chance to meet a possible future employer.

Unlike Northeastern, Berklee does not have the deep pockets to bring in major acts, Indrisano said. Still, at Café 939 performers get to keep 100 percent of the merch income. They also get to play to attentive, sober audiences. The only setback is promotion.

"We’re not your private promoter. You need to hump it on MySpace, you need to DIY with fliers. The club’s run by students; they have other obligations. They can’t street-team your show," Indrisano said. "Then again, if you can’t sell out a 200-capacity room, maybe you need a few more VFW gigs."